The wife of Britain's biggest philanthropist today demanded her “fair share" of the couple’s assets, with an estimated value of more than £1bn, at the start of a hearing that is likely to end in the country’s largest ever divorce settlement.
Jamie Cooper-Hohn, 49, filed for divorce from her husband, the hedge fund manager Sir Chris Hohn, two years ago, arguing for a half share of The Children’s Investment (TCI) fund which she claims is worth more than £500m. Sir Christopher has said the firm is worth only £60m even though it manages assets worth more than £3.5bn. He is offering his ex-wife 25 per cent of his assets.
Martin Pointer QC, representing Ms Cooper-Hohn, told the High Court yesterday that his client had been living in rented accommodation with the couple’s four children, including triplets, since the separation.
“She expects that to continue,” he told the court. “At the outcome of the case she thinks she will have the resources to buy somewhere for themselves.”
Mr Pointer said: “The family has comparatively modest lives. They have not lived a jet-set lifestyle.”
Mrs Justice Roberts said that “regardless of the size of the settlement, whether it is 25, 30, 40 per cent or whatever, each [of the couple] can afford to live in a home they choose to.”
Together the pair have given more than £1bn to charity through the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation that they founded and which Ms Cooper-Hohn has been Chief Executive, President and Chairman of. It was founded in 2003 so that the majority of TCI’s profits could be channelled into the charity but since their separation Mr Hohn, who is non-domiciled, decided for the first time this year not to.
Instead his company paid out more than £26 million to around 20 members of staff, with the largest sum understood to have been paid to Sir Chris, 47, with further “unallocated profits [from TCI] due to go to him”, Mr Pointer said.
Sir Chris, the son of a Jamaican car mechanic, met Ms Cooper-Hohn when the couple were studying for MBAs at Harvard University.
He told the court: “Both parties come from modest backgrounds and didn’t bring any assets into the marriage. The resources available now have been generated as a result of their efforts during the time of their marriage. We say fundamentally that is what most marriages are: a partnership… and [this case] strikes at the heart of the concept as marriage as partnership.”
Mr Pointer told the court that as of August 2013 the CIFF was valued at $3.8bn but has been worth more than $5bn recently. He said: “Because of their different skills it was natural that the roles taken by the husband and wife involved the husband being the man in charge of the hedge fund, and the wife being the person who substantially manages the foundation.
“How can it be possible be fair that a couple who have agreed how to run their lives together for the wife to only receive a quarter of the assets? He says that some of the assets have been generated post-separation but before the divorce and themselves should not be shared… but we say ‘so what?’"
Ms Cooper-Hohn also argues that subsidiary companies owned by Mr Hohn should also be taken into consideration during the hearing. Known as TCI Group entities, she believes they are worth more than £470m. Mr Hohn says they are worth £64.3m.
Mr Pointer held up an organogram in court to show how all the subsidiaries are connected in order to highlight the complexity of the network of firms. He said pensions, “other investments” and property should also all be taken into consideration when deciding the final settlement.
The largest previous divorce settlement is believed to be £220 million, paid in 2011 by the late Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky. That is set to be trumped whatever the outcome of the Hohn case.
Citing a previous case where a couple’s assets were split evenly despite a six year separation before divorce, Mr Pointer said: “The lodestone should be fairness.”
The hearing, expected to last 10 days, continues tomorrow.